Teachers File Class-Action Lawsuit against Union’s Mandatory Membership and Forced Dues Policies

Union operatives blocked members’ resignations, illegally imposed mandatory collective bargaining

National Right to Work
Legal Defense Foundation, Inc.

Louisville, Kentucky (September 23, 2009) – With free legal assistance from the National Right to Work Foundation, several Jefferson County educators have filed a federal class-action lawsuit against local and national teacher unions for a series of schemes designed to force unwilling educators into full-dues paying union membership.

The lawsuit alleges that union officials routinely blocked membership resignations for years at a time, automatically enrolled new teachers in the union without their consent, and used a collective bargaining scheme to force county teachers to pay union dues.

The teachers’ lawsuit, filed against the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) union and its national affiliate, the National Education Association (NEA), in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, seeks the return of illegally seized dues, a modification of the union’s contract to allow employees to resign from union membership at any time, and a regular notice from the union that informs public school employees of their right to refrain from membership.

The NEA is also named in the teachers’ suit because it encouraged JCTA officials to continue to block resignation attempts despite the concerns of local educators. Foundation attorneys believe that this lawsuit has the potential to deter similar NEA practices across the country by setting a favorable precedent under the First Amendment guaranteeing the right of teachers to resign from union membership at any time.

Currently, teachers employed in Jefferson County are automatically enrolled as union members and forced to pay union dues unless they explicitly register an objection to JCTA union officials. Moreover, teachers are only permitted to resign from formal union membership during a ten day-window period after an individual teacher’s contract is signed or after the union hierarchy agrees to a new contract with the local school board. If a teacher fails to register an objection to union membership within either period, he or she is forced to remain a union member until the expiration of the union’s five-year contract with the local school board. Many teachers report that JCTA officials never informed them of their right to refrain from joining the union in the first place.

Foundation attorneys believe that any collective bargaining agreement that forces educators to pay union dues to keep their jobs is illegal under state law. Moreover, the Foundation-won Supreme Court precedent Abood v. Detroit Board of Education ensures that teachers and other public employees have the right to resign from union membership. Retaliation or discrimination against employees for deciding against belonging to a union is also illegal.

“The JCTA’s illegal policy has allowed union officials to hold teachers hostage for far too long,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “While we’re confident that the Foundation’s lawsuit will be successful, the best way to prevent future abuse of this nature is for Kentucky to adopt a Right to Work law. Doing so would make union membership and dues-payment strictly voluntary.”

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